New Jersey knife laws can be confusing to understand by both civilians and law enforcement. Some people are arrested because a police officer mistakenly believed a certain knife was illegal when it was not. Thus, understanding New Jersey knife laws can help you avoid unpleasant and costly entanglements with law enforcement.
Lawful Possession of a Knife
People often think of the Second Amendment as pertaining to guns only. However, the plain text of the Amendment is clear, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”Thus, the State cannot infringe upon your right own, or carry a knife, except in limited circumstances. The list of knives that are not illegal in New Jersey include:
- It is legal to own disguised knives like lipstick knives
- Butterfly knives
- Hunting and Fishing Knives
- Pocket Knives and Swiss Army Knives
- Bowie Knives
- Throwing Stars
- Any bladed weapon, not specifically prohibited, for which a person has an explainable lawful purpose for owning
Unlawful Possession of a Knife
Unlawful Possession of a Knife: In New Jersey N.J.S. 2C: 39-3, the possession of these knives is prohibited: dirks, daggers, stilettos, switchblades, gravity knives, ballistic knives, and any razor blade embedded in wood. Possession of these items is a crime of the Fourth Degree and punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Unlawful Use of a Knife: if you use any knife, legal or illegal, with the purpose to use it unlawfully, you can be charged under N.J.S. 2C:39-4, Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purposes. This is a crime of the third degree, and punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison, and a fine up to $15,000.
Example: You have in your glove box a kitchen knife. Possession of the kitchen knife is not a crime, so you cannot be charged with possession under N.J.S. 2C:39-3, prohibited weapons. However, if you use the weapon to pry open a window in the course of a burglary, or threaten someone with the knife, you can be charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Unlawful Sale of a Knife: Because knives can be used for lawful purposes, it is not illegal to sell them. However, under N.J.S. 2C:39-9.1, it is against the law to sell a combat, hunting, or survival knife, having a blade five, or more, inches long, or a total length (handle and blade) of ten inches, or more, to anyone under 18. This is a crime of the Fourth-Degree and is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Further, any who sells a prohibited knife to anyone, regardless of age, is guilty of violating N.J.S. 2C:39-9(d), unlawful sale of a prohibited weapon. This is a Fourth-Degree crime, and punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. However, it is a defense that at the time of the offense you were a licensed retailer or collector. It is a defense that the alleged minor presented identification showing he was 18, or older, or that the appearance of the minor would convince a reasonable person that the minor was over 18.
Unlawful Transportation of a Knife: Anyone who transports one of the prohibited knives, without a license to do so, can be charged under N.J.S. 2C:39-9(d), with unlawful transportation of a prohibited weapon. This is a Fourth Degree crime and is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.
Possession of a Knife on School Property: If you possess and knife on school property, without previously receiving written consent from the school, is guilty of N.J.S 2C:29-5(e), a Fourth-degree Crime. This is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Robbery: If during a theft, you use a knife, injure anyone with a knife, or threaten to harm anyone with a knife, you can be charged with Robbery, under N.J.S. 2C:15-1. Robbery is a crime of the second degree and is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison, and a fine up to $100,000. It becomes a crime of the First Degree, and punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison, if the knife was used in an attempt to kill or injure another or does cause serious bodily injury. A conviction for Robbery with a knife is subject to the “No Early Release Act,” (NERA), which means you must serve 85% of the sentence before being released.
Aggravated Assault: If you used the knife during a fight, you could be charged Aggravated Assault, under N.J.S. 2C:12-1, even of the victim suffered no injury. This is a Second-Degree crime and is punishable by 5 to 10 years in State Prison. This sentence is also subject to the “No Early Release Act,” (NERA), which means you must serve 85% of the sentence before being released.
Defenses to Possession of a Knife
The fact you did not know the knife was illegal in New Jersey is not a defense. However, there are several defenses available to those charged with knife crimes. First, the knife may have been seized by police in violation of your Fourth Amendment Right to be Free from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures. This is bedrock constitutional law and guarantees that your personal property, including backpacks, cars, and homes, should be free from the prying eyes of the police unless the police have a warrant based on probable cause. If the police do not have a warrant, then they must have a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement, then the knife would have to be suppressed and the charges dismissed.
Example 1: You are stopped for speeding, and the police officer sees a switchblade knife on your passenger seat. The knife may be considered in “plain view” if certain requirements are met, and thus the officer does not need a warrant to take the knife and charge you.
Example 2: You are stopped for speeding. During the investigation, it is discovered that you have an unpaid ticket somewhere else and a warrant for your arrest. The officer arrests you under the warrant and sees a backpack on the floor. He searches the backpack and finds a switchblade knife. Later you are charged with its unlawful possession. In this scenario, the officer did not have a warrant to search the backpack, as such the knife could not be used against you.
Other defenses include that you did not know of the knife because it belonged to someone else. Perhaps this same person left it where the police found it. It is also a defense it was not your purpose to use it unlawfully. Finally, it is always a defense, if the knife turns out not to be illegal.
New Jersey Brass Knife Possession Defense Attorney, Steven W. Hernandez
If you are facing a charge of possession of a prohibited knife, possession of a knife for unlawful purposes, unlawful sale or transportation, robbery or aggravated assault with a knife, the potential consequences can be severe. Having strong legal advocacy, from an experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense attorney, is crucial in these circumstances.
Steven W. Hernandez will provide you with aggressive representation to mitigate, or possibly eliminate, the penalties associated with your charges. To help ensure your rights and future are protected, allow a New Jersey knife possession lawyer, from our firm, fight for you. Request a free consultation. Call us today at 732-286-2700.